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Books Smart

Post-Tina, Talk survivor Jonathan Burnham keeps synergy alive.

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Miramax Books is hot -- v. hot! In the past two weeks, the publishing house launched Rudy Giuliani's Leadership, propelled Michael Chabon's Summerland to the top of the best-seller list, and acquired Plum Sykes's novel for a stunning -- some would say stunningly annoying -- $625,000.

The head of this at-the-center-of-it-all media company is not the deposed Queen of Buzz but another dirty blond British import, Jonathan Burnham -- who's about to become the new face of synergy.

Which may be a bit more than he bargained for. "I moved here for love," says Burnham, 42, of his decision to abandon London's prestigious Chatto & Windus four years ago. He now lives in Tribeca with editor Joe Dolce and their two mutts, Bumper and Drew.

Not that anyone doubts he's ambitious. "He can be enchantment itself when you're seated next to him at a dinner party," says one social veteran, "then develop selective amnesia at a more glamorous event."

Upon moving to the U.S., Burnham -- who once jousted with Iris Murdoch over philosophy -- seems to have had a wholesale transplant of taste. "He knew what he knew," says Susan Petersen Kennedy, president of Penguin Putnam. "And he knew what he wanted to learn. What he did at Talk was buy personality books." "He's an adaptable guy," nods Julie Grau, an ex-colleague at Penguin Putnam. "And he's used to working for strong-willed women."

"Plenty of them in publishing," Burnham says coyly, "aren't there?"

"He doesn't feel his ego is diminished by being a vessel for someone else's ideas," adds cooking juggernaut Nigella Lawson, who roomed with him at Oxford ("I was his beard before he came out").

In the beginning, Burnham built Tina Brown's idea of a publishing house: a small media SWAT team. Their first hit was Ice Bound, a doctor's story of treating her own breast cancer while at the South Pole. Later, they made an unexpected hit out of a Moroccan memoir of captivity that got lapped up by Oprah. "Tina helped me navigate the mysterious world of American media," Burnham says.

Until Tina's own compass failed her. "I was impressed that he made sure his office was away from the craziness," says an ex-Talker.

After Talk's collapse, it became clear that the book division was a strong source of movie projects, and Miramax is actively pursuing many of Burnham's books. Sykes's Bergdorf Blondes, sure. But also potential kid's-film franchises like Artemis Fowl or Michael Chabon's Summerland.

"The real test for Summerland is going to be the synergy thing," says Chabon, who has provided Harvey Weinstein with all the tools to go franchise -- though he swears that wasn't his intention. "It just so happens that where a couple of the characters get left at the end of the book is the beginning of a new adventure. Jonathan said, 'I'm glad you set things up for a sequel.' That's when I realized, Hey, you're right."


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